In 2001, a group of friends graduated from college and set out on a cross-country road trip to interview people who lived “lives centered around what was meaningful for them.”
The boys acquired an RV, and wandered around countryside filming a documentary about their trip in which they brazenly approached all sorts of people who were doing what looked like interesting things and asked them a lot of personal questions about life-issues like, “How do you know that this thing you do is right for you?” and “What was your worst mistake?” and “What advice do you have for a lost puppy like me?”
The documentary the friends made of their journey was expanded into a series on PBS. They wrote a book about the first road trip.
This first book was followed by other books, by other projects all designed to help other people get the kind of insights the young men acquired on their own original road trip.
Eventually they and the team they assembled along the way launched a nonprofit called “Roadtrip Nation.” The goal of this nonprofit is to help other young people who need advice for shaping their own careers into something fulfilling, for living a life doing what matters most to them.
In the following YouTube video, “Road Trip Nation: The RT Nation Story,” the three friends, Mike Marriner, Nathan Gebhard and Brian McAllister, tell the story of their continuing journey.
They point out that going around the country asking people they encountered questions about how they ended up living lives that had meaning and mana helped each of them find their own truths, their own self-definitions, and their own kind of good life.
Asking questions and listening to the answers from people who had taken their own paths was profoundly useful to them. It helped them answer that age-old question, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
What started as a madcap adventure-cum-vision quest has spawned a whole movement of young people who are looking for their own answers to this most important question.
Besides an assortment of books, Roadtrip Nation maintains an extensive on-line video library of the interviews they conducted on their PBS series.
If you click on the “watch” link you can browse the PBS series by season. Within each season you can browse each episode by interview subject. Among those interviewed are everything from CEOs of major corporations to everyday workers in all kinds of industries and working situations who love what they do.
It’s famous…the Fight or Flight reaction dichotomy that happens every time the adrenaline starts pumping through your system as you’re facing yet another new crisis or unfamiliar situation.
It’s a human thing. I mean, look at us: Bad eyes, really limited smelling ability, can’t hear well, small teeth, no claws, weak muscles, can’t run, bad at climbing, and on and on. In a world of predators, we tend to be a lot wary. We’ve got good reasons.
Depending on your own propensities, you may want to believe that you’ll stand firm and fight your way through whatever obstacles and challenges you must.
Courage and perseverance and never say die…all the full-blown, pump-’em-up motivational stuff plays in your mind as you keep on trucking on. Forward, forward, always forward. A valuable and viable option.
Or maybe you want to believe that you will be wily and smart enough to pull a dig and peel on outa there when the odds are overwhelmingly against you.
Retreat and you’ll live to fight another day. You’ll be able to choose your battleground and marshal your resources more effectively. Fall back, regroup, and try again. Another valuable and viable option.
AND THEN THERE’S THE FREEZE
Then there’s the third reaction that doesn’t get quite as much show-time. It’s called the Freeze. Think deer in the middle of the road, caught in the headlights of an oncoming sixteen-wheeler. Few people want to emulate the soon-to-be street pizza, but very often they do.
The Freeze arises from the fact that we think…a lot. It’s another very human trait — the one, in fact, that has put us at the top of the food chain and made our species the biggest, baddest predators of all.
THE FREEZE HAS A FANCY NAME
The Freeze is such a prevalent behavior pattern that the smarty-pants scientists even have a name for its extreme form — “tropophobia.” It’s a genuine, actual condition that can be extremely debilitating and cause all kinds of problems for you.
“Tropophobia,” it says here, is “the fear of moving or making changes.” People who suffer from it don’t handle surprises well. They suck at dancing with change. Even minor changes can cause a complete breakdown.
Tropophobia can be triggered by things like moving to another country, state, city, or even another house in the same neighborhood. Changing schools or jobs are major obstacles. Relationships that are changing are excruciating for these folks.
Getting a different vehicle, changing doctors or insurance companies, having new neighbors move in next door, making small changes in set routines, changing your mind or entertaining a new idea….anything that’s different, anything “new and improved” can throw you into a tailspin when the Freeze is your default response.
This is not good. It’s hard to do your dance when your head’s whirling around and around and you’re feeling dizzy and nauseous.
ANATOMY OF THE FREEZE
To some extent, every one of us humans can get overwhelmed by changes that keep coming and coming. Most of us develop work-arounds and strategies for it that allow us to keep on moving through the changes in outward circumstances or changes in our own feelings and internal landscapes. Some of us just can’t.
One of the most common traits of people who are affected badly by the Freeze is extreme stubbornness. Their “Yes-Book” is very small; their “No-Book,” very large. Things are supposed to happen a certain way and no other way is going to work. Rigidity is their middle name.
The general anxiety that happens when faced by any change gets blown up into major crisis proportions. If the anxiety level gets too high a panic attack may set in.
Your heart beats faster and faster. You have difficulty breathing. Weakness, fainting, dizziness, tingling or numbness are common occurrences. You start sweating a lot and may experience chest pains. Extreme terror grabs you and you spin out. ACK!
One cause for the condition that stands above the rest, according to the smart guys, is trauma. Something happened to the sufferer that convinced them that moving made them a target somehow.
Any kind of movement that calls attention to their presence feels dangerous. For them, it feels better to hide out in the bushes or behind masks rather than to risk an attack that might cause some kind of harm or suffering.
Just the possibility of future suffering or the repeat of suffering that previously occurred gets magnified so badly that they become unsettled and very wobbly. Who wants to move when the ground under your feet is rocking and rolling and cracks are opening up in front of you?
An extreme need for consistency makes people who suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder prone to getting driven into a frenzy by any change in daily routines.
Others may just be terrified for no real reason at all. You don’t need a reason to be scared. Sometimes you just are.
Hey…let’s face it. Despite our current status as top dog of the world as we know it, humans are basically descended from a long line of brainy runners and cringing scaredy-cats.
The ones who were brave (and unlucky) didn’t survive long enough to HAVE descendants. Freeze-genes are part of our DNA.
We honor the fearless ones mostly because the majority of us know that inside our own selves there is a terrified heart prone to a heck of a lot of trembling and moaning.
SO, HOW DO WE DEAL?
Therapy is one solution touted by the smart guys. Cognitive-behavior therapy can be helpful. This type of therapy changes the way you react to a feared stimulus by helping you sort through the options available to you when you are confronted with whatever scares you.
Often, by using these techniques, you can even get some insights into what causes you to freeze up like that. You use your mind to calm your mind by developing routines and workarounds that help you cope with some feared change or other.
Things like shock or exposure therapy have also been used to treat tropophobia as well, but that just sounds like a refined sort of torture. (The kid’s scared of the water? Easy solution: throw him into the middle of a deep pond. Watch him drown. End of problem.)
Medication’s another solution. Specially designed anxiety medication and/or anti-depressants can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. They can also help with the physical symptoms of panic attacks like difficulty in breathing.
However, the side-effects of the drugs can be gnarly and, for real, popping a pill every time you get scared just shoves the fear under the rug for a while. You’re going to keep tripping over it…again and again and again.
Relaxation techniques, including the beginning stages of meditation and yoga, listening to music and various breathing exercises have been found to be very effective at alleviating anxiety and other symptoms. Many people choose these as quick and easy methods for coping with various situations as well.
The problem with all of these methods, practices and techniques is that they are coping devices. When you use them, you relieve and mitigate the assorted symptoms of the problem, but you are still stuck with the basic problem, which is your fear.
It sits there, a raging stream that cuts across your path and the dream you’re chasing is on the other side of the stream. Treading water in the middle of the stream just doesn’t get you to the other side.
Marketing maven Seth Godin had an interesting take on this whole issue in his book, POKE THE BOX. He points out that things are always moving and flowing. He calls that flow “flux” and says that engineers can measure the flux of heat or molecular change by measuring movement.
One example he uses is putting an ice cube in a cup of hot tea. The heat moves from the water into the ice. The ice melts. That’s flux. That’s movement.
The problem is that people often confuse the natural flux and movement of the evolving world around us with risk, and, for real, “risk” is just a state of mind.
The feeling of “risk” is the result when we put some value on a particular outcome. We want that outcome very badly. If we don’t get to that particular outcome then we feel we have lost something somehow.
Risk always involves winning and losing. And risk always brings with it the possibility of failure. Chances are, the more risks you take the more likely it will be that you will fail at some point.
If you’ve been trained to avoid failure, Godin says, you will be especially averse to taking risks. Your wonderfully agile mind starts in, showing you all the ways this move or that move could lead to failure. Not only that, the people around you, who probably don’t like change any more than you do, are likely to chime in as well.
You start getting anxious. You’re going to lose, Lose,LOSE…oh, no! So you don’t move.
Anxiety, according to Godin, is “experiencing failure in advance.” Your mind is doing a ju-jitsu number on you, throwing you for a loop.
Godin likens the reactions of the risk-averse to acting like a rock in the middle of a flowing river. He says, “People act as though flux – the movement of people or ideas or anything else that’s unpredictable – exposes us to risk and exposes us to failure. The fearful try to avoid collisions so they avoid movement….”
He tells us, “Like a rock in a flowing river, you might be standing still, but given the movement around you, collisions are inevitable.”
He points out that a log floating down that same river is in the flow of movement and change, but that log is likely to experience a heck of a lot more calm around it when compared to that rock. Moving with the flow it doesn’t get banged up so much by the floating debris and it can land in a pretty cool place eventually.
Godin’s solution to thawing the Freeze is this: Flex with the flux. Move. You are more likely to get to somewhere else pretty much intact.
This YouTube video, “Numbing Pain and Joy” presents an important concept: when you numb pain (or discomfort or fear) you numb joy.
The video was published by KirstyTV, the You-Tube channel for internationally known motivational speaker Kirsty Spraggon whose main focus in her talks and as an interview talk-show host is vulnerability and working through the issues connected with being a bonafide, genuine human being.
Here’s a poem:
This is SERIOUS!
Here you are lollygagging down this road
on your way to your Doom.
You are ignoring all the smarty-pants prophets.
They tell you how foolish it is to be
refusing to be ruled by inevitability,
refusing to heed their fingers pointing at your fate,
ignoring their gloomy and direful predictions of your predicament.
So what happens?
This road of yours takes a left.
then it takes a right…
an unexpected corner – OOPS!
pothole here, mud bog there,
mist and shadows,
caves and heights.
You move one more jot
along your meandering trail
going hither and yon along yet another cliff edge,
then down some rocky beach,
under the pretty trees,
totally unaware of that stupendous bunch of heavy coconuts
that just misses your head because
YOU stopped to watch some hyperactive orange-and-black butterfly
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that energy, vitality and passion cannot be given; they can only be found. [Your liveliness comes from inside you. No amount of urging by outside forces can make you vital, can make you care. You have to find it in yourself, for yourself.]
Here’s the thing: If you don’t really care whether some idea or conceptualization becomes a reality, if the process of getting to the finish line only induces a body-shuddering yawn, then it’s unlikely that you are going to convince your Inner Two-Year-Old that this boring, seemingly unending bit of road you’re walking is any kind of fun.
There’s going to be a lot of foot-dragging, whining, whimpering, time-wasting, and all-out, go-for-the-gold tantrum-tossing.
If you’re physically exhausted, if your mind is whirling around totally confused, if your heart is muddled and your spirits are low, you are just not going to be able to move effectively. It all gets very, very disheartening and none of this is at all conducive to the good stuff like “mastery,” “achievement,” “leadership,” and “peak performance.”
It really does seem that in order to actually have more than ho-hum and humdrum in your life, you do have to learn how to find and nurture your own kind of lively.
The book laid out the principles behind their “Corporate Athlete Training System,” a practical, highly effective program that developed out of their work helping clients perform more effectively under brutal competitive pressure that very often led to meltdowns and assorted other forms of implosion. It wowed the business world, that book.
TIME MANAGEMENT? HA!
It also put the kibosh on the notion making the rounds at the time that all us busy, busy people have to do is somehow manage our Time properly and, by golly, we too can reach the ever-receding end of our ever-evolving To-Do List and achieve all of our dreams and goals as well as happiness, joy, and The Good Life.
As most of us have discovered (if we’ve spent any time in the world), Time doesn’t take to herding very well. (Frankly, neither do we.)
As Loehr succinctly puts it, “It’s not about time! Time management is crap….It is about energy management.”
IT’S ALL ABOUT ENERGY!
The authors lay out the Real – that human beings are complex energy systems and the only thing we’ve got to fuel this journey we are making through the world is our own innate, self-generated energy.
The wise guys through the ages have always said that our personal energy comes from four separate but interconnected dimensions of our lives that are all a part of every one of us. Our bodies, our emotions, our minds and our spirits affect the amount of energy we are capable of producing.
This energy has cycles – sometimes there is a lot of energy available, sometimes not so much. How we use our energy affects how much energy we have available to us when life demands that we move. How we nurture ourselves also affects our energy reserves.
Loehr and Schwartz tell us that if we understand how our personal energy systems work, we can develop supportive and nurturing methods and techniques that allow us to grow our energy output exponentially. Doing that, as their work with their clients have shown over and over again, allows us to do amazing things.
Since a lot of the work by the authors has been done with super-athletes and others who are pushing themselves to greater performance levels in sports, in business and in everyday living, many of their metaphors and methodologies are easy to understand (unlike some bits from more esoteric sorts).
“Full engagement,” according to the authors, means using all the dimensions of your being to produce and to maintain and nurture the energy you need to get to whatever goal you’ve set for yourself. In this book, there are many suggestions and lifestyle hacks that can help you do it better.
One of the best animated video overviews I’ve seen about this book was published by Callibrain on YouTube shortly after THE POWER OF FULL ENGAGEMENT was released.
Callibrain, it says here, is a software platform offering tools and such for corporate leaders, managers, and corporate employees to “enhance employee engagement through social collaboration and execution discipline.”
(All I really know about them is that they have produced some excellent animated reviews of books that explore thought-provoking concepts that are very useful for those who are interested in developing themselves in ways that help them reach their own excellence.)
On re-reading this book, I was struck by the number of similarities between the practices Loehr and Schwartz advocate and those that are suggested by other teachers exploring the human condition and how we can best deal with the world as it is and as we are.
My own favorite riff is the one about how the primary markers for physical capacity are the following: strength, endurance, flexibility and resilience. Those same markers can be used to measure capacity in the other dimensions of being as well.
For example, physical flexibility means that your muscle has a broad range of motion. Emotional flexibility means you can move freely and appropriately along a wide range of emotions rather than responding rigidly or defensively. Mental flexibility is the ability to move between the rational and the intuitive and to look at other points of view. Spiritual flexibility is the ability to tolerate values and beliefs that are different than your own.
An interesting exercise is to find the equivalents for each of these markers – strength, endurance, flexibility and resilience – in the areas the authors examine – body, heart, mind and spirit. Developing and expanding your capacities in each of these areas will give you a better chance of reaching “full engagement,” they say.
I find it interesting that these capacities also seem to be the same ones that many wise guys encourage you to develop and expand as you work on living a life with meaning and mana.
Sometimes, it really is only a little thing that can make a big difference. A genuine smile may brighten someone’s day. A kind word or a sincere expression of appreciation can help somebody keep on going through tough times.
“Loving-kindness” was what the Tibetan Buddhist crazy wisdom master Chogyam Trungpa Rimpocheused to call it, and for him and his students it was a most pertinent practice. It helps alleviate the suffering in the world, the old masters all say.
And, yeah: It’s a cliché. But that’s the thing about clichés…often they are just old truths that we need to keep telling each other as reminders.
It’s often really, really little, this loving-kindness thing. It’s pretty much ordinary and every-day. Still, loving-kindness is the best way us humans have for connecting with each other.
The original story by Elizabeth Silance Ballard was first published in a 1974 issue of Home Life magazine as “Three Letters from Teddy.” Over the next three decades it spread, even making an appearance in one of the CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL books. It is a good story.
Here’s another video produced by the Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas that was published on YouTube by Sarheed Jewels in 2011. It asks: What if you could see other people’s problems? How would that affect you?
One of the loveliest online sites about loving-kindness in action is the one put up by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (RAK), a group of educators and community leaders led by Gary Dixon who are all dedicated to the proposition that us humans are meant to go around spreading warm fuzzies. Their mission is to encourage you to go forth and be kind.
The RAKtivists believe that kindness is teachable and contagious. They can point to a lot of scientific evidence that seems to validate the fact that doing kind things is actually very good for your own health.
Among the findings they highlight are the following facts:
Kindness produces oxytocin, the “love hormone.” Oxytocin, in turn causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide which dilates the blood vessels. This aids in lowering blood pressure and helps protect the heart increasing overall heart-health.
Harvard Business School did a survey of happiness in 136 countries in 2010 that found that people who were generous financially were happiest overall.
People who volunteer tend to experience fewer ache and pains. One study showed that people 55 and older who volunteered for two or more organizations were at 44 percent more likely to live longer. Other studies have shown that engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins – the brain’s natural painkiller.
There’s a thing called the “helper’s high,” according to research from Emory University, that is a consequence of the fact that often when you’re kind to someone else your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up. Maybe that’s because acts of kindness apparently stimulate the feel-good anti-depressant serotonin, which helps to heal wounds, calm you and make you happy.
So…here’s one other benefit to the whole kindness thing: When you’re kind to somebody else, it just naturally bounces back on you. And isn’t that a very good thing?
Here’s a poem:
I PROMISED ME
No one ever promised
That life would always be true and fair
Or that there’d be a shelter from the storm,
A warm fire waiting there,
That happy would perch on your head
And belt out one more song,
That reaching out a solid hand
Would find other fingers reaching, just as strong,
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that generosity is not a down-payment on love. [Generosity is spill-over when you’re feeling full.]
I am reading a book, LOVE LET GO: Radical Generosity for the Real World, by Laura Sumner Truax and Amalya Campbell. It is a story about an amazing church congregation in Chicago, the LaSalle Street Church, who received a totally unexpected windfall: a check for $1,530,116.78.
The check represented the church’s share of proceeds from the sale of an urban property that they had bought in the 1970s with three other churches. The land had been used for a desperately needed low-income housing project in the neighborhood, Atrium Village, which had served the purpose for more than 25 years.
The church’s heartful investment had been returned…in spades.
This 2017 YouTube video of a “100 Huntley Street” interview with pastor Laura Sumner Truax, one of the authors of the book, is a kind of a teaser for the book.
As Truax says, the church leaders made a wild, counter-intuitive move that changed the game on a clear day in September, 2014. The leaders used ten percent of the windfall money to tithe back to the church members. Each church member received a $500 check with the injunction to go out and do good in God’s world.
The leadership of the church also encouraged the members to participating in the effort to study and pray on how they were going to allocate the rest of the windfall funds, the “Big Money.” More than half of the congregation spent nine months on the project.
The book tells the story of what happened and what the people involved in this exploration learned as a result. It was and remains an ever-evolving, extraordinary process and journey, one that makes my heart smile.
THE GIVING CHURCH
LaSalle Street Church was built in 1886 in the near north side of Chicago by Swedish immigrants who never once worshipped in it. The congregation had been left bankrupt by the effort of its construction.
Its history of hard luck and scarcity continued throughout the church’s long history of involvement with a community that is diverse and sometimes volatile. One of the primary principles the church has always held to is this: Giving is better than receiving.
They really did walk their talk even though most of the time the church was, like their neighbors, “just getting by.”
Giving didn’t change the church’s financial circumstances but it did change “the way LaSalle wore its scarcity,” as authors Laura Sumner Truax and Amalya Campbell lyrically puts it. They did it with style and their acts of generosity were truly appreciated.
During the 1960s, when Chicago exploded in the violence and vitriol of the race riots, local youth protected the LaSalle Street Church from burning. The angry young ones who were pressing for change remembered. They protected the people who helped them through their hard times.
The church has always been a major light in the community. Senior citizens who needed company and a meal, the kids looking for sanctuary and a safe place to go after school and residents who were caught up in a legal system they could not navigate all found what they needed at the church.
This video, which was put together by Faustino Productions in 2015, was published on YouTube by tinogon1942. It shows the aftermath of the Chicago riots on the west side of Chicago after Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4, 1968 as the Supreme’s “Stop In the Name of Love” plays.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s Chicago officials embraced the concept of urban renewal and started creating high-density, high-rise dwellings like Cabrini-Green and relocated people from the poorer parts of town to these new developments. The joke going ’round then among the city residents was that the program would have been more aptly named “urban removal.”
In reaction to this government program, LaSalle Street Church’s senior pastor at the time, Bill Leslie, preached a commitment to turf. La Salle stood at the edge of communities in transition. On one side, some of the city’s neediest residents lived. On the other side was some of the most expensive real estate in Chicago.
Leslie thought that the church could be a meeting place where everyone was welcomed. He and his congregation of fifty-some members believed that at the bottom of it all the church was all about all of us people being in this old mess of a world all together.
The members who were better-off materially saw themselves in their poorer neighbors’ situation. They understood the struggles and they also believed that they needed their neighbors as much as their neighbors needed them. They looked for a way to help.
In this they were aided by local congressman Robert L. Thompson, an African-American who was also a long-time resident of the city. Thompson worried over the impact of urban renewal on the thousands of his constituents who were facing displacement.
When Thompson was offered a bribe of ten thousand dollars to influence the award of the rights to the land occupied by the LaSalle’s row house neighbors, he refused. Then he called Leslie.
Somehow the congregation found what they thought could be a solution to their neighbor’s problems. There was a plot of land for sale that sat to the west of the church, juxtaposed against the homes of high society to the east. It was big enough and near enough for a housing development to which their neighbors could relocate and still be neighbors.
Over the next two months Leslie rallied LaSalle and several other churches to invest one thousand dollars each in a campaign to secure the land rights. (When you consider that Leslie’s own salary hovered around three thousand dollars at the time, it was a goodly sum of money back then.)
The housing project that grew there, Atrium Village, was the first housing development in the country to be financed and constructed by state, private and church funding. It took years for all the players to finally agree to the vision of a truly diverse project: 50 percent black and 50 percent white; 50 percent market-rate and 50 percent under-market rate rents.
The first apartment tower was dominated by a nine-story open atrium. That atrium gave the “village” its name and it lessened a significant fear factor. The central atrium left no dark hallways in the building. Light flooded in.
Also, there were glass elevators that allowed light and visibility and the courtyard area around the buildings provided safe places for children to play.
Atrium Village opened to a flood of three thousand applicants. It became a solid anchor in the community and was a testing ground for finding the best practices for community-based housing. It was also the first of three building projects the church undertook in the neighborhood, all of which focused on building community engagement among people who were different from one another.
The other two were a building for senior housing and another for a legal-aid clinic.
Here’s a short YouTube video, a for-rent ad for Atrium Village apartments, published in 2012 by apartmenthomelivingA.
In the early 2000s, almost 25 years after Atrium opened its doors, La Salle got word that the primary investor in the development wanted to sell its interest. The restrictive covenants on Atrium would soon expire without possibility of renewal. The city was in the process of demolishing Cabrini-Green, the public-housing complex of 30-story buildings that had been a long-time neighborhood fixture.
The new model for government thinking on the public-housing problem was dubbed “scattered site” housing. Instead of monolithic structures, the vision now was lower-density, low-rise units that served a diverse population – exactly the vision that the people who made Atrium Village happen advocated.
The times they were a-changing…again.
Even though the churches who initiated the Atrium Village project represented only a 15 percent interest in the property, as a voting bloc, they could stop the sale of the property. Two of the partner churches faced almost certain closure by their denominations because their memberships had dwindled down to mere handfuls.
The church memberships had watched the Cabrini-Green towers come down, knowing that the retail developers were also watching it happen. Condominiums that cost upwards of half a million dollars were being planned.
The churches, all of whom were like LaSalle and framed their ministry on being bridge churches, understood that their neighborhoods were changing. They finally reached an agreement to sell their interest while negotiating hard for more units set aside for the working poor.
They were supported in this intention by the Chicago city tax assessor, their local alderman, and various community groups. Any redevelopment plan would be required to have 20 percent of its units available at below-market rate.
THE REST OF THE STORY….
And so it happened: the sale, and then the check, and then the tithe from church to its people.
You’ll have to read the book to get the rest of the story.
An interesting history of the church building and the neighborhood provides a glimpse at the background for this story. Here’s the YouTube video, “130 Years – History of the LaSalle Street Church Sanctuary Building,” which was put together and published by the church in 2016.
It’s easy to stay in our comfort zone. We’re good there. We know where we are. We know what we’re supposed to do about it all.
There are two problems with hanging in the comfort-zone, however. Life doesn’t often let us stay there, and we don’t grow as much there.
“Post-traumatic growth” is a term coined by Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, two of the pioneering experts on the subject. They say PTG is the “positive change that occurs as a result of struggle with highly challenging life crises.”
In this YouTube video, History of Post Traumatic Growth, Calhoun tells a bit about how their concept of studying “growth through stress” developed.
The scientists and their teams interviewed people who had endured hardship. They wanted to know why some people grow after trauma and others don’t. What they found surprised them.
Just like the wise guys keep telling us, it seems suffering can help people transform in fundamental, positive ways. The transformations in the people who were interviewed were more profound (and more common) than the researchers expected.
They tell us that there are five ways people can grow after a crisis:
Their relationships can strengthen.
They can discover new paths and purposes in life. Sometimes these are related to a particular survival mission. Other times the crisis becomes the catalyst for a more general reconsideration of priorities.
Trauma allows them to find their inner strength.
Their spiritual life can deepen.
They can feel a renewed appreciation for life.
HUH? HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?
“Deliberate rumination,” (spending lots of time trying to make sense out of painful experiences and reflecting on how these circumstances have changed you), the psychologists say, helps to foster post-traumatic growth.
Tedeschi and Calhoun use the metaphor of an earthquake to explain how we grow in the wake of crisis. Just as a city has certain structure before major earthquake so too do we have fundamental beliefs about our lives and the world. Trauma shatters those assumptions.
Out of the rubble comes the opportunity to rebuild. In the aftermath of an earthquake, cities aim to erect buildings and infrastructure that are stronger and more resilient than what now lies in ruins.
Those who are able to rebuild psychologically, spiritually and otherwise after a crisis are better equipped to deal with future adversity, and they ultimately lead more meaningful lives.
As Anne M. Mulcahy, the former chairperson and CEO of Xerox Corp, once advised, “When you have that window of opportunity called a crisis, move as quickly as you can, get as much done as you can. There’s a momentum for change that’s very compelling.”
WHAT PTG CAN MEAN FOR YOU
Personal coach-mentor Robin Amos Kahn gave a short talk about this phenomenon which was published in this YouTube video, Post-Traumatic Growth by OwnTheRoom in 2014. In it she shares her personal story of personal adversity and how she grew from it.
Own The Room is an organization of skillful communicators based in New Jersey who provide leadership training and work with corporations around the world. They say they help “empower high performance cultures that enable people to actually have fun while doing the best work of their lives.”
OKAY….HOW DO I DO IT?
The following collection of six life-hacks are take-aways from these guys and others who have continued to figure out how to use the findings on post-traumatic growth and their ramifications to help other people survive and thrive after a crisis.
(Stephen Joseph spent over 20 years working with survivors of trauma and is a professor at the University of Nottingham. Fredrike Bannink, who among other things is the Mental Health Trainer for Doctors Without Borders, is an internationally known clinical psychologist based in Amsterdam.)
Figure out where you are now.
Acknowledgement and validation are important, the guys in lab coats say. You have to understand and accept the changes that have happened. You have to cop to the fact that you are smack-dab in the middle of it all
F’r real, your problems don’t need to be analyzed to death. They are there; they are in your face. See them. Know where you’re standing. If you can just see the challenges, you can actually face them and maybe do something about them.
Focus on what already works – assess your strengths, competencies and resources: How do you cope? How do you keep your head above water? Do more of that. What have you got? Use it.
VALUE CHANGE ITSELF
You know what the best thing about change is? It is happening all the time. If you’re stuck in suck, it helps to remember that old and hoary reminder: “This, too, shall pass.”
Obstructions and adversity do not go on forever. Mostly that’s ’cause we don’t last that long. Also, we always have the option to choose to step out of the bog our own selves.
One way to do that is to try to get past looking at just the negatives of a situation. Check out how things may have improved as well. Even a small change for the better counts. Count them all.
BUILD ON HOPE
Learn to be hopeful about the future, these guys tell you. Look for inspirational stories about people who have overcome similar obstacles and start looking at how you, your own self, still have a future, one that can be good anyhow.
Focus on your personal goals. Seeing yourself as you want to be is the key to personal growth. What are your best hopes?
The scientists, seekers and practitioners all say building hope and optimism is very important for transcending whatever 2 x 4 has hit you upside the head. They are the antidotes to the hopelessness and pessimism that keep you in the muck.
Develop an attitude of gratitude. Yup. Count your blessings. They are on the other side of all the wo-wo-woes.
Re-write your own story. You can do this literally by using expressive writing techniques to find new perspectives. As Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung once said, “I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
So…tell the story about who you are choosing to become. Make up your own happy endings.
After a while you’ll start to understand that it doesn’t matter who hurt you or what broke you down. What is going to matter to you is who and what made you smile again and why.
NOTICE NEW GROWTH
Ask yourself: When have you felt better lately?
Put on your own lab coat and use “scaling questions” to assess your progress, motivations, hopes and confidence. On a scale from 10 to 0, where would you say you are today? How come it’s not lower?
Notice the progress you’ve made. Don’t discount them just because they’re teeny. One step is still one step.
Call your shots – What will be the next signs of progress?
The scientists who study post-traumatic growth all say that if you can get through the painful process of dealing with trauma and change, you will get to the point when you will make something that is your very own unique expression of self.
It is worthwhile to remember, I think, that one old meaning of the word “suffering” is “to undergo.” When you “suffer,” you are undergoing something. What you’re doing is just all about going on through it. You can choose to suffer over your suffering, or not.
Once you’ve made it to the other side, you’ll be able to make something, the guys in the lab coats say. Maybe it’ll be a marvelous thing the world has never before seen.
The poets, the artists, and the wise guys got there before the scientists again, I am thinking.
They know, those poets and artists. Through all of the ouches and angst and all the confusion and chaos, there’s a golden thread that leads you back to your Highest Self. And when you get there, oh…the thoughts you can think and the things you can do….
All this other stuff is about finding that thread.
Here’s a poem:
LOOKING FOR THE GOD THREAD
Looking for the God Thread…
Where the heck did it go?
It’s buried under all this other stuff.
Tangled up in all this blustering blow.
Looking for the God Thread…
Do you see a shiny fine gold wire
Wandering through this mass of
Fuzz-ball thoughts, messed-up desire?
Looking for the God Thread…
It’s in here, I know.
I’m picking through all these old bits,
Growling ’cause the going’s so slow.
Looking for the God Thread…
Where the heck can it be?
It’s all my fault! I got distracted, a bit refracted,
Japanese farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoda once said, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation of human beings.”
THE SEED IS PLANTED
In the poorest postal code in Canada, in the city of Vancouver, the old farmer’s vision has come to ground and taken root in a network of four urban farms located on five acres of reclaimed land. They call it “SOLE Food Street Farms.”
The name is an acronym. It arose out of a project, “Saving Our Living Environment” (SOLE), by United We Can, a Vancouver non-profit that operates a recycling program and employs street people and people from the neighborhood to clean up streets and alleys. Until the farms were able to operate independently, they sheltered under the United We Can umbrella.
The project was spearheaded by visionary farmer and food-growing advocate, Michael Ableman (of Foxglove Farm fame), and his collaborator Seann Dory who worked for United We Can. They put together a project that provides stable jobs and training and development for 25 people, most of whom live in the neighborhood where they work. Together they have built an oasis of green in the middle of gray and black city hardscape.
DOWN ON THE FARM
This 2013 video, “The Story of Sole Food,” which was produced by Point Blank Creative with the support of Vancity and is available on YouTube, tells the tale:
The farms have succeeded beyond the two founders’ wildest hopes when they began reclaiming their first piece of ground in the parking lot of the Astoria hotel in Strathcona, the oldest neighborhood in Vancouver (right next door to Downtown Eastside, the poorest postal code in all of Canada.)
Every year the farms produce over 25 tons of fresh produce that includes tree fruit from a large urban orchard that grows in an abandoned railway yard.
The farms supply more than 30 area restaurants and sell at five Vancouver farmer’s markets. They operate a community-supported agriculture program as well.
They donate up to $20,000 work of produce every year to community kitchens.
Most importantly, they help their urban neighbors reconnect and re-ground themselves in the age-old cycles of life and growing that every farm honors and celebrates.
After the farm project had been going for several years, the MBA program at Queen’s University conducted research into the uber-local farming enterprise.
The guys in the lab coats figured out that for every dollar SOLE Foods spent on employing people who are “hard to employ,” there was a $1.70 combined savings to the person and the legal system, the health care system, the social assistance networks, and the environment through carbon sequestration and energy and transportation benefits. A good return-on-investment, that.
The book is a triumphant mash-up of Ableman’s philosophy about farming as a business and a traditional craft with pictures on every page spread (many of them taken by Ableman) documenting the continuing trials and tribulations of trying to build a real farm in the middle of the big city. The best parts of the book are the stories about the relationships that have developed between the organizers, the farm workers, their clients, and the Downtown Eastside neighborhoods where they work and live.
If you’d like more information about SOLE Food Street Farms, CLICK HERE.
At the time it began, the scale of the farms was, perhaps, unique. It was urban agriculture, growing food on a for-real farm that was run as a business with a heavy dose of social consciousness added in. Many of the earlier efforts by assorted city planners and developers in various cities around the world focused on garden-scale projects – urban horticulture rather than agriculture.
It isn’t a new concept, this growing food in the middle of a city. As cities grew, the food needed to feed the people was grown all around them. Sumerians, back in 5000 BCE, were famous for the sophisticated irrigated agriculture in and around some of the world’ earliest cities in what is now southern Iraq.
But, these ancient farmers and all of their descendants in the long history of agriculture did not have farms built on top of pavement covering over the contaminated soil between buildings in the remains of demolished factories and other urban ruins. This is what makes these street farms so remarkable. What makes them even more remarkable are the number of lives they have touched and the ones they have helped to nurture, heal and rebuild.
Michael Abelman says that SOLE Food Street Farms is “based on the belief that the simple act of planting a seed can bring new life to the world.”
[Amen to that one, braddah.]
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): a tendency to build bridges between your world and other people’s worlds. [Foot-traffic on all the bridges you build brings many treasures into your world.]
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all say it. We want to spend more time with the people we love. We want to spend time on the things that matter most to us – things that bring us joy, projects or activities that are fulfilling.
We want, we want, we want. Uh-huh.
THE GAP BETWEEN SAY AND DO
This short, made-on-the-fly YouTube video, published by Prosperity TV in 2015, “The Congruence Gap,” features Randy Gage, an internationally acknowledged expert on prosperity and success.
It has one big idea: Very often there is a gap between what we say we want and what we do.
It also has one big question: Is it time to check the evidence?
Gage’s bio reads like a novel. The millionaire started out as a high school drop-out and juvenile delinquent arrested for armed robbery at the age of 15. He made it past juvie jail time, assorted addictions, and getting shot, as well as the various risings and fallings of a dedicated hustler all the way to near-bankruptcy before he turned himself around and started moving on up.
In 1990, the guy began writing self-help books on the subject of prosperity and a year later formed a coaching and training business, Gage Research and Development Institute, Inc.
Gage has also spoken to more than two million people across more than 50 countries and is a member of the Speakers Hall of Fame, it says here. Whew!
CHECKING THE EVIDENCE
What Gage touches on in his little video is a thing developed by London Business School professor and business coach Richard Jolly. It has been used, adapted and expanded by others. The exercise is called the “Calendar Diagnostic.” It takes a bunch of time spent head- and heart-bending. It can be well worth the effort.
Here’s what you do:
First, you grab a piece of paper and ask yourself these burning questions:
What does success look like to me?
What’s my definition of a good job, a good career or a good life?
What values and priorities do I hold most dear and want to live?
What feeds me? What is inspiring and life-enriching for me?
What are my top three priorities in all of this? Decide what and who are the most important in your life.
Next, pull out your last year’s calendar or planner…whatever you use to stay on top of your to-do list. Ask yourself:
What were my three biggest commitments each week? Each month?
What did I spend my time doing?
What did I do on weekends?
Did I take any time off or any vacation time? What did I do then?
Write down your answers. Reflect on them.
Now, for each of your top three priorities, ask yourself this:
How much alignment is there between what I say I want (my priorities) and how I spend my time?
Am I saying “yes” to the most important things and people in my life?
If you are walking your talk, give yourself a round of applause and just keep walking that walk. Maybe throw in a couple of dance steps or cartwheels or something.
AFTER THE WAKE-UP CALL
However, maybe after working your way through this exercise, you get whacked upside the head with the hard evidence that somehow your walk is not matching your talk. Ouch!
The next step (after you stop bad-mouthing and scolding yourself yet again) is to grab up another piece of paper and start detailing alternative actions you could-might-(maybe) take.
Want to get healthy? How can you do that? Make a list, break it down. (Forget about slicing or chopping. Think dicing. Think mincing.)
Want to work on strengthening relationships with your heart-people? What tiny moves can you make to do that?
Want to learn something new, start a new exploration, develop a new skill or new mindset or expand one you already enjoy? What small actions can you make to get that started?
Think on the actions you can take that align with your most treasured values and goals. Make them tiny. Make them little. Don’t go all grandiose. Just do small.
And make lists – column A, column B, and column C — one column for each of your top priorities.
After you’ve made up one weensy, tiny step you could make for each of your top three priorities, sprinkle these steps throughout your days.
Pull out your current calendar or planner. Start adding at least one of the little alternative actions that align with what you say you want to do to your calendar. Do it for the next four weeks – just one month. Pick one from column A, one from Column B and one from column C and add each one to a specific day for each week. Choose a time – morning, afternoon, evening — when you’re going to do this one thing.
Then when you get to that calendar date, you know that on this day, besides all of the other stuff you’re going to do, you will also do the little step or action you’ve scheduled that aligns your walk with your talk.
After you get through one month of days, re-evaluate.
Are you ready for another step from each of the columns?
Or do you want to keep on doing the same one for a while?
Has there been some new development that requires some other step you haven’t listed or even thought of? (Add it to the list, add that one item to your calendar, if it’s appropriate, and go….)
Set up your next four weeks in the same way. Go.
If you keep doing that, over and over again, at the end of the next year when you do your calendar diagnostic again, you may be delighted at the way you’ve begun to bridge that congruence gap.
You may like the way your moves and actions are trending. And, maybe, you’ll have thought up more ideas for the journey you are making. Go, you!
One of my favorite quotes from Randy Gage is this one: “There is no random. Your life is the harvest of your thoughts…. And your results come from the thoughts you give precedence to. Instead of letting thoughts ‘happen,’ you must be mindful, becoming the thinker of the thought.”
Ever since people started talking to one another, they’ve explored the power of words. The power of LOGOS (the Word) has been the fundamental foundation for building a religion, a culture, a movement, a life.
Words can move you. Words can move other people. That’s probably why everybody talks so much.
A MOST EFFECTIVE PUNISHMENT
Remember the Biblical Tower of Babel? According to the story, the people on earth got together and decided to build this great tower that would reach into Heaven itself. They figured they could be like little gods if they did that.
They were planning to invade and trespass into God-country. The Big Guy got mad that they even dared to make that attempt.
So, how did the Dude punish them? He made it so they began to speak in all kinds of different languages. All of a sudden, there was a major obstacle to collaboration and cooperation. You can’t work together if you don’t understand what the other person is saying. The project was abandoned.
Of course, that also meant that folks had a harder time just living together peacefully, but that’s another story….
DISTILLING THE WORDS
Poems are an especially powerful form of word-use. Poets distill their thoughts down to their essence, throwing away all the parts that interfere with their dance with the words.
Poems are like the essential oils of the Word World. It takes an incredible number of rose petals to make an essential oil. Imagine. It takes 10,000 POUNDS of petals to make one pound of rose oil. Each little 5mL bottle contains the essence of 105 pounds of petals.
Have you ever tried opening one of those teeny bottles of essential rose oil? Wow! One sniff and your nose transports you into the best enclosed rose garden there ever was.
POEMS AS A BUSINESS TOOL
In this 2013 TEDxMarin video, “The Power of Poetry”, leadership coach and teacher Dale Biron, who combines poetry with martial arts, leadership, and life-strategy, in his speaking, coaching and workshop sessions for business conferences, organizational retreats and university classes, talks about how great poems are like powerful “apps” for the mind.
Biron says poems can be “good stories with the boring parts removed.” He believes in the power of poems to get you to a life worth living.
POEMS IN MAXIMUM PRISON
Touring spoken word poet Phil Kaye has won many awards in his career so far. He’s currently a co-director of Project V.O.I.C.E. (Vocal Outreach Into Creative Expression). The Project, it says here, is “a national movement that celebrates youth self-expression through Spoken Word Poetry.” They aspire to encourage young people to use Spoken Word Poetry as a tool “to explore and better understand their culture, their society, and ultimately themselves.”
When Kaye was still a student at Brown University, he participated in and eventually became the coordinator for the college’s S.P.A.C.E. (Space in Prisons for the Arts and Creative Expression) prison initiative program. The University students, unpaid volunteers all, offer a variety of weekly art workshops at the Rhode Island Adult Correction Institutions (ACI). Phil did workshops about spoken poetry.
(S.P.A.C.E. also facilitates workshops in the Providence Center, a residential recovery service provider located on the campus of the ACI.)
Kaye developed a keen appreciation for the power of poems during the time he taught weekly poetry workshops in maximum-security prisons. In this TEDxFoggy Bottom video, “Poetry in Maximum Security Prison,” he talks about that time in his life and how it has influenced his life-direction.
Kaye’s journey has led him to venues all over the world from the Lincoln Center in New York City to the Malthouse Theater in Melbourne Australia. His work has been viewed online over five million times and has been featured in media outlets ranging from National Public Radio to Al Jazeera America and Upworthy.com.
One of Kaye’s favorite life high-points was being asked to perform alongside His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama during the beloved teacher’s 80th birthday celebration at the 2015 Global Compassion Summit conference in Anaheim.
In my own life, poems have been my way to get back to clarity about a life-situation or about my own self. Writing down and recording all the moving parts is like taking a step back from them so I can get a better handle on the whole mish-mash of chaos and confusion.
Sometimes, a hole opens up in the clouds and a light shines through. Sometimes not.
I keep working on it. Sometimes I get a whole bunch of poems. Sometimes nothing.
It’s all process….
Here’s a poem:
Nothing comes together.
This poem is not going well.
The words keep turning pale.
They fade, they float away.
They stumble around looking confused.
I let loose my Sergeant Major
Who growls at these clueless bo-bo recruits.
They keep stacking themselves this way, that way.
They keep falling over, all in a heap.
A horrible mess.
These words have forgotten how to weave, it seems.
They’ve lost the knack of bending and turning themselves
Into a shapeliness that lightly dances.
All they’re doing now is tripping all over themselves,
Faltering and flailing wildly.
Maybe they’ve contracted some runical laxness…
A touch of lyrical amnesia, perhaps,
Or maybe some versical repression.
They are limp, they are flawed.
They are a bunch of lazy bums!
Maybe I’ve stumbled upon a stash of leftover bits —
Just coagulated lumps of airhead thoughts,
Neither highly expressive nor particularly rhymical.
It seems to me that no matter how you walk, you are always going to be stumbling over other people’s concerns, other people’s desires, and other people’s understandings.
There is no getting around it: The World is full of other people and every one of those guys have their own world-views and their own agendas. They get in your way and you could spend a lot of time struggling with them…or not.
One lifelong project for me has been putting together a bunch of strategies for dealing with other people. These strategies were taken from my years of studying the thoughts in a mountain or two of business books and how-to manuals and scientific studies about the human mind as well as in the I Ching and more esoteric studies, and the musings from martial artist practitioners and from crazy wisdom masters.
My professional practice as a residential property manager has been a testing ground for these things and I’ve had many opportunities to try my hand at getting to pono, what Hawaiians call “balanced and righteous actions and behavior.”
I’ve worked hard at learning how to move through the travails of my (basically contentious) trade gracefully and learning how to be a proper go-between so that everyone involved can get where they want to go.
It’s been a fun exploration – often ARGH-making, and sometimes sublime.
ASKING, “HOW CAN I GET TO MINE?”
I’ve noticed that, very often, touted hacks for getting your own way tend to be war-like (where you bash other people out of your way, using the force of your persona to bull your way through) or manipulative (where you basically trick someone into doing what you want).
Either way of walking may get you the crown and let you be king (or queen) of the mountain, but then there’s the problem of being there all by yourself because nobody wants to hang with such a bully or trickster.
Some of my friends have gone that route. They don’t seem very happy with it.
So, it seemed to me that it might be a better thing to become a martial artist of the mind instead – to understand and practice forms that are made up of many smaller moves that evoke certain responses from the other person which you can use to get to where you want to go.
It’s not about using force and strength. It’s not about making tricky moves. It’s about using your own mind’s balance, leverage, and focus to affect another person’s way of moving.
How do you get to that?
THE SEVEN HACKS
Over the years I’ve tried and discarded many so-called sure-fire techniques and tactics and distilled the ones that seemed to work every time into seven all-purpose hacks. These strategies (with appropriate martial artist-type names) are as follows:
STILLNESS OF THE MOUNTAIN. In this one, you become silent and you quietly observe. You let the other person talk and you listen.
What do you see? Does the other person’s point of view have validity? Or is the other person wanting to do the waltz when you were thinking you were going to be doing the tango together?
Just taking the time to be still can bring a lot of things into view that perhaps your concentrated focus on your desired outcome has obscured.
You may be ignoring some big pothole because you have not looked down. A boulder may be on its way to squishing you because you’re standing there and you haven’t looked up.
Other people may be seeing the things you’re ignoring. Pay attention.
REFLECTION OF THE LAKE. You can reflect back the other person’s concerns or resistance to your idea using his or her own language. Tell them back what you think you are hearing and check that what you are hearing is what they are actually saying.
Ask them to clarify their point of view in a very non-aggressive way. Listen. Pay attention.
SUPPLENESS OF THE WILLOW. You can agree with another person’s demand in principle. Say, “I suppose we could do that. How would we handle this or that negative consequence, do you think?”
Perhaps the other person has not thought through the consequences of some move they are proposing. Perhaps they are short-sighted.
Or, maybe, they’ve done their homework and might be able to point out workarounds that you can’t see. Pay attention.
THE STONE WRAPPED IN SILK. You can calmly state solid fact (the stone) in as supportive a manner as possible: “Are you aware that this is true? What do we do about that?” Listen. Pay attention.
MOVING LIKE THE RIVER. You can acknowledge a proposal you don’t want to accept and then invite the other person to think of another way to solve a problem you can see with it.
“Hmmm. That’s an interesting idea, but I do not think it is the way I want to go. Can you think of another way that we might be able to do this, that would meet your needs at least partway and help me meet mine?”
DISPERSING THE CLOUDS. When you see that the other person is caught up in beliefs, assumptions and fears and has boxed himself (or herself) into a corner, you can acknowledge all of the perhaps-legitimate concerns and then ask what he or she might do if the perceived obstacles did NOT exist.
Use their concerns as a springboard for further movement.
ACCEPTING THE FIRE. Name the major sticking point for the other person, the one main thing that he or she cannot accept about your proposal.
If that thing is an absolutely important, non-negotiable issue with them and you are not able to deal with it in a way that would be equitable for your own self, then you will have to accept that you and this other person cannot dance together.
Say, “thank you.” Walk away.
I have found that it’s important to remember that a lot of struggle results from your emotional investment in any one dance. The thing is this, there are many ways of dancing and many, many other dances.
If you can step back from the emotions involved in working towards a desired outcome and remember that it’s all just dancing, then it can make the whole thing a lot smoother.